Tropic Thunder Film Review

Tropic Thunder is a war film. . . parody. But we aren't talking a parody like Airplane is to disaster films or Scary Movie is to horror. And it is nothing like the scourge to society that has been all of the recent Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer films (Date Movie, Meet the Spartans, Vampire Sucks). The film does parody classic war pictures like Platoon and Apocalypse Now, but it does so much more than that. It actually parodies the type of actors that would enter into a big budget war epic and pokes fun at the process of that type of filming. Plus it has an actual story rather than just aping a prior film and throwing in some toilet humour.

The basic plot is that millionaire studio executive Les Grossman (played in magnificent over the top form by Tom Cruise) purchases the memoirs of Vietnam Vet John "Four Leaf" Tayback (played by Nick Nolte), and hires rookie director Damien Cockburn (played by Steve Coogan) to turn the book into the grandest and most expensive Vietnam war epic. Cockburn is faced with the problem of trying to control the egos of the big Hollywood stars hired for the picture, and finds himself in the precarious position of having the film potentially cancelled on him. Then Tayback suggests the director send the actors right into jungles and force them to really experience what it is like (since they'll be away from their comfy trailers and eager assistants). Coogan follows his advice, but it wouldn't be much a movie if everything then proceeded to be peachy. Instead, they end up mistakenly flying out of Vietnam and dropping them right into the Golden Triangle (most extensive opium producing area of Asia), where they're faced with the real threat of the heroin producing gang, the Flaming Dragons. The story unfolds with the pampered movie stars being attacked by a legitimate army, while they still believe they're filming the movie.

The premise sort of reminds me of the Three Amigos, where actors are forced into a dangerous situation but are believing they're just performing a show. In the end, the actors have to use their skills to try to thwart the evil enemy. After that, it ends up being two completely different films and no other comparisons are even fair. Tropic Thunder is an original film and takes on a whole new level of satire and parody.

The film has a pretty good story, but also is able to pack it with tons of laughs. If you've seen a fair share of war films or have an idea of what happened during the filming of Apocalypse Now, then you'll be thoroughly entertained by this movie. There are so many subtle little jokes about war films and it does such a good job of parodying the whole process of making such films. The main characters are perfect prototypes of actors who are usually chosen for a war blockbuster film.

You've got Ben Stiller playing Tugg Speedman, who is your typical box office giant action star who has fallen on hard times after choosing to star in a few flops, thus now trying to gain back some cred by taking on a more serious role (I'd guess he is loosely based off someone like Sylvester Stallone). Kirk Lazarus, played by Robert Downey Jr, is your highly talented character actor who has a room full of Oscars but has a bit of a bad boy image (considering the character is Australian, you'd think there may be some allusions to Russel Crowe). The extra fun part about Lazarus is that he is so focused taking on challenges and getting into character, he takes on the role of the black Sergeant. This means he undertakes a 'pigmentation surgery' to become black and proceeds to 'talk Black' for the remainder of the filming. Jack Black takes on the role of Jeff Portnoy, who is a drug addicted comedian whose attained great fame with his toilet humour and crazy antics (definitely tries to get you to think of Chris Farley). Brandon T. Jackson plays the role of mega hip hop star Alpa Chino, who fits the role of the cross promoting mainstream star trying to attach himself to a major motion picture to further launch his brand(you can pick countless different celebrities for this one). Finally, you have Jay Brauchal playing the role of Kevin Sandusky, who is your stereotypical unknown actor that always gets slotted into a supporting spot along with the major heavyweight stars. All these characters are essentially a parody of how Hollywood does business and it shows the brilliance of the writing in this film.

The characters are a huge part of what makes this work. Everyone in this film does such an incredible job with their characters. Tom Cruise is amazing as the over the top film executive who only cares about the bottom line. Matthew McConaughey is fantastic as a sleazy talent agent. All the previous named actors do a great job of fitting into their roles and playing up all the traits you'd expect. Nolte does a stand out job as the grizzled war vet, and proves he can do a great job at comedy. The characters aren't deep and are largely stereotypes, but the actors do such a great job of going over the top with it. This is one of those movies where it just seems like everyone is having a great time, and this makes for a very fun film

Since the film is a parody of war films, you expect some action and special effects. It totally delivers on both. This has to be one of the more spectacular special effects comedies ever and the explosions are pretty impressive. You never forget that this film is a comedy, but it does a great job of blending in the necessary actions scenes. It has some better special effects and action than some of your actual war or action movies. The thing that I liked about it was that it didn't overly rely on CGI but rather went for some real explosions like the old war films had to rely on. It does a good job of making you think of past war epics like Platoon and Apocalypse Now, which is sort of the point.

The film is a fun ride and for the most part really funny. I do think it would have benefited from being about 20 minutes shorter. It seemed at some point the writers ran out of jokes, but wanted to stretch the film out to a particular length. It started out as a really tight picture but then unraveled slightly at the end. For the first half, it seemed like the film hit every single laugh, but at the end, the jokes started to become a bit more stale and forced.

The only other criticisms of the films could be its crudeness and plot holes. The film is rated R, so you shouldn't be surprised with the foul language and controversial jokes. There is one joke about Stiller's character starring in a horrendous film about a mentally handicapped man called Simple Jack. I've read that this parody film offended some critics and viewers over the portrayal of mental disabilities. I am not going to try to defend the film too much, but I also think that the over the top characterization was part of the point. Just like how Downey's over the top 'Black language' was the joke. I also don't think they crossed a line, or at least not for me personally. But if such things easily offend you, then this isn't going to be an enjoyable film for you. It's a crude comedy, but it is also a R rated comedy, so you should know its crude going in. As for the plot holes, the movie is so over the top and goofy, that I am not even sure if some were a mistake or were actually intentional. For the most part, they don't jar you out of the experience too much and instead, probably just add to your laughter.

I ended up seeing this picture on the Blu-ray, which included the mockumentary Rain of Madness. I haven't watched the entire thing due to the fact it was late and I like this thing called sleep. The short film chronicles the hardships of trying to shoot the fictional version of Tropical Thunder. This is further proof that they were definitely going for a Apocalypse Now vibe with this film, as that movie not only was known for going way over budget and having many mishaps, but ended up having a documentary about it called Heart of Darkness. I appreciated that wink to war film making past and from what I saw, it looked like it delivered some solid laughs. Along with the many other extras and two commentaries, the Blu-ray looks like a good buy for fans of the film.

Tropic Thunder
is a hilarious and crude satire of not only war films but the entire filming process. The characters are quirky and funny, and amazing parodies of who you'd expect in epic war films. Tropic Thunder isn't for everyone nor does it even try. It is an action packed and hilarious film that deliver exactly what you'd want from this type of movie. It is easily one of the funniest and most entertaining comedies of the last several years.